Life cover 1963

Life Magazine

September 20, 1963

Barbra Streisand Hits the Top


A long time ago, three years to be exact, a plain, skinny girl from Brooklyn named Barbra Streisand shared a railroad flat with a rat named Oscar. Because there were no closets, the apartment was littered with vintage clothes, which looked as if the girl might have inherited them. (She had, in fact, bought them all from thrift shops.) The girl's hair was limp and drab, her nose would have pleased a witch, and her conversation was kooky. "I feel smudgy today," she would say. "You know, splotchy, like ink spilled and you spilled water on it." She was, in short, a big mess.

Today Barbra has limp hair, a nose like a witch, and she is a big success — so big that she has landed one of the choice plums of the Broadway season. She will be starred as Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl.

Streisand wearing a hat

Barbra wears an old hat — "a work of art." Her favorite evening gown is 50 years old. "It makes me look sexy."

Barbra always had one thing going for her — a dramatic, versatile voice, and when she lashes into a song, she becomes a fascinating woman. Her range seems unlimited — from an angry Cry Me a River she can switch to a bouncy Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? or a poignant A Taste of Honey. Her first real chance was a Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It for You Wholesale — and she ran away with the show. Now, at 21, she commands a nightclub salary of $15,000 a week and just wound up a sensational month at Hollywood's Cocoanut Grove. Her two records are hotcake hits and she is even listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook. She has acquired a husband, a duplex apartment and a $12,000 skunk coat in recent months, but she still harbors old clothes and kooky ideas. "Success," she says, "is having a baked potato come out of the oven just right. Not raw and not overdone. Success to me is having ten honeydew melons and eating only the top half of each one."

In the familiar shadows of a Manhattan nightclub, Barbra belts out a song as if her very life depended on it.

Streisand in spotlight singing